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I Lost Weight on the Whole30 Diet (Without Cheating!)

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At four months post-pregnancy, I still wasn't feeling quite like myself. And while I was finally in a somewhat regular workout routine (well, as regular as you can get with a new baby), my diet was all over the place. I was trying to get back to eating clean 80/20 percent of the time, but had enjoyed one too many almond croissants during my pregnancy and subsequently picked up a habit of overindulging. If I wanted to return to a healthier, happier self, I knew I had to make some changes.

I noticed a couple people posting about the Whole30 diet (or Whole 30, as it's commonly written) on Facebook, and it piqued my interest. But it wasn't until a friend of mine mentioned he was half way through the program, had lost 10 pounds, and felt great that I seriously consider doing it. (I mean, talk about Whole 30 weight loss results!) After some further research, I decided this was just the system reset I needed.

While it shares some characteristics of the Paleo diet, which I was already loosely following (no processed foods, grains, dairy, or legumes), when comparing Whole 30 vs. Paleo for weight loss what you should keep in mind is that Whole 30 excludes Paleo-approved sugars like honey and baked goods made with almond or coconut flour. You're basically committing to eating nothing processed and no treats of any kind, even the "healthy" versions, for 30 days. Things that are allowed: all the fruit, veggies, and meat that you want. "Whole 30 isn't just a 'harder' or more 'extreme' version of Paleo," says co-creator of the program Melissa Hartwig. "It's a short-term intervention designed to teach people how the food they are eating impacts them, and ultimately help them create their own perfect diet."

For the month of June, my husband and I committed to following the Whole 30 meal plan. We had two weeks prior to get rid of the gluten-free cookies, coconut milk ice cream, and other unapproved foods in our apartment, which was good because it gave us some time to adjust to the fact that we wouldn't be eating any of those things for the next month. We started the one-month weight loss plan with a clean slate and a fridge stocked with fresh fruit, veggies, eggs, chicken breasts, ground turkey, and thin-cut pork loins for our Whole 30 shopping list. (Get your diet off to a good start by learning how to Fat-Proof Your Home.)

While Whole 30 rules don't set a calorie limit, the guidelines are restrictive. This plan isn't a weight loss diet, according to Hartwig, but rather a means of changing your relationship with food and identifying any food sensitivities. "It's designed to jumpstart optimal health for the rest of your life," says Hartwig. Sounds manageable enough, right?

Well, yes and no. I started day one with a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs with mushrooms and onions. However, by lunchtime, I wanted cookies. Maybe I shouldn't have had that last Fat Tuesday-type hurrah the day before, because all I could think about was sweets. Luckily, I had my husband to help talk me off the cookie-binging ledge. The bag of fresh grapes also helped. Despite sticking to my diet of eggs in the morning, a mid-day fruit snack, a meat and veggie lunch, mid-afternoon baby carrots, a meat and veggie dinner, and fruit dessert, by day three I had a recurring pounding headache that refused to go away. Thank you, Whole 30 sugar withdrawl. 

Halfway through week two, I felt like I had a good grasp on things. I wasn't always thinking about junk food and, surprisingly, I began to feel satisfied by fruit. Who knew pineapples could taste so sweet? You might be thinking, "I did." But after cutting out all the crap with added sugar, I think my taste buds were finally free to fully pick up on the true sweetness of something as simple as fresh pineapple or ripe strawberries.

The Whole 30 grocery list made hitting the supermarket an eye-opening experience, as there was sugar in so many products I had never thought about. There was added sugar in everything from pasta sauce to bacon. We weren't able to eat a single variety of bacon for the entire month, as we couldn't find any without sugar at our local grocery store (I know, crazy!). We did find a delicious and all-natural spicy chicken sausage that served as a good breakfast meat. Major lifesaver. Other go-to's included roasted almonds with sea salt and "just apples" applesauce. (Next time you hit the grocery store, look out for Healthy Food You'll Only Find Inside the Supermarket Aisles.)

By the end of the third week, I was starting to miss carbs, but I was so close to the end that I didn't dare cheat. Finish line aside, I was enjoying how great I felt. I had been eating clean for the past 21 days and my insides could tell. I didn't feel weighed down or sluggish. And that sugar headache was gone. Bonus: I was down 10 pounds! (You're encouraged to not weigh yourself during the 30 days, but I noticed the changes in my body and couldn't resist stepping on the scale to see how it translated.)

I definitely completed this diet with an improved relationship with food. (It was easy to shake up me old eating habits with delicious Whole 30 recipes like this.) Before I felt that sweets, whether it be the Paleo versions of ice cream and brownies or otherwise, were a must-have after dinner, but this month forced me to get creative with nature's candy: fruit. And I realized that my sweet tooth could be satisfied by something other than chocolate or baked goods. The weight loss and improved skin (I felt like my face was glowing!) didn't hurt either.

While I feel proud for making it through the 30 days without cheating, there were definite moments where I wanted to cheat and probably would have if it wasn't for these five things.

1. Have a partner. I'd like to think that I've got pretty strong willpower, but 30 days is a long time, and some days the thought of a pepperoni pizza just sounds better than whipping up something in the kitchen. You know you should stick to your diet, but having someone (for me it was my husband) follow the program too can keep you accountable and help you kick the cravings for junk.

2. Get creative with meals. Flavorful meals make all the difference. No, this isn't breaking news, but when you're working within strict guidelines, savory foods leave you feeling much more satisfied. The best part: You can still have favorites like pasta and pizza, with a few changes of course. Case in point: zoodles (zucchini noodles) and turkey meatballs and cauliflower crust pizza.

3. Plan ahead. Whole 30 doesn't mean the end of your social life. You can still go out and enjoy brunch or dinner with friends. Look at the menu ahead of time and find a meat/veggie option or maybe a nice omelet stuffed with veggies.

4. Meal prep. You'll need to think about your meals in advance and grocery shopping is a must. If your fridge is stocked with a variety of fruits, veggies, and easy-to-prep meats, you'll be much less likely to go off track. On Sundays, I would prep meals for the week. A favorite was mini frittatas with peppers, onions, and spicy chicken sausage. (Not sure where to start? Here are 10 No-Sweat Meal Prep Tricks from Pros.)

5. Don't skip dessert. I'm not saying you should dive into a tray of Oreos, but you don't have to give up your something sweet. One thing I've learned is that there is a ton you can do with fruit. Grilled pineapple with a sprinkle of cinnamon and dash of cayenne is a delicious dessert option that fits within the diet criteria. Or try an upgraded fruit salad with almond slivers and coconut flakes—so much flavor and texture!

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